One of the long standing arguments against online education is that students cannot possible be as socially well adjusted as their public school counterparts. Breaking news: I am living proof that even traditional public school graduates can grow up to be socially awkward. My experience has been that volunteering in the community over the past two years has been much richer in terms of socialization than 20 years of public (K-12) and private (undergraduate and graduate) school ever was.
It may be odd talking about socialization in the context of an adult, but some of the lessons I have recently learned I wish I had known about years ago. Perhaps one or two e-Tutor students and parents could use the information now.
All of us at e-Tutor believe that there are learning opportunities everywhere, socialization among them. Examples include summer camps, community sports teams, church groups, and the like. Personally, volunteering in the Boulder community has offered the best social contexts in my first 36 years of life.
Though I moved to Colorado almost 10 years ago, my introverted personality is still a reflection of growing up in New England. Smiling doesn’t come naturally, and making eye contact requires concentration. With that said, it’s something I work to overcome, and have found volunteering to be the best situation to do it in.
Volunteering has been ideal for me because it’s a setting in which:
- Even wallflowers like me can jump right in, regardless of experience or skill level, because what is valued more than anything is willingness to participate.
- I can pursue my passions along with others who share similar interests, because we are all by definition there voluntarily.
- I am able to develop skills that I may not have a chance to develop elsewhere.
- I can get to know people by working with them, which creates stronger connections for me than by just meeting them in another setting.
I started volunteering in the Boulder tech community to feed my interest in startups, and have participated in quite a few groups along the way: Ignite Boulder, TEDxBoulder, SnapImpact, and more. Here are two experiences that I’d like to share with e-Tutor students and parents:
- Spending an afternoon with Growing Gardens: Last week the company my wife works for organized a trip to a non-profit in Boulder that manages several community gardens and runs programs for children, at risk youth, and more. My daughter and I met my wife there and spent 3 hours taking a tour, planting seeds, and chatting with my wife’s co-workers and their families. Having spent time learning about gardening together at home, this was more great family time, but in a social setting; more than 70 volunteers took part.
- Writing regularly for boulder.me, a blog run by a few volunteers to support the Boulder tech community and those thinking about moving here: boulder.me has connected me with a variety of local startup founders and gave me a chance to start writing posts for a blog other than my own, which have been great confidence builders. These days I am working with three other volunteers to help steer boulder.me as we figure out how we can best serve the community.
The time I spent at Growing Gardens is a great example of a volunteer opportunity that can fit into just about any schedule: there’s no long-term commitment (just a few hours in the sunshine); you just show up, be helpful, and go on with the rest of your day.
Staying involved with boulder.me, on the other hand, is a great example of a volunteer opportunity that takes a fair amount of time, but gives back a huge feeling of accomplishment.
There are so many volunteer opportunities out there that chances are you’ll be able to find something that is a perfect fit for you. Go to Serve.gov to search for volunteer opportunities in your area. If you’ve got any tips on fun ways to volunteer, let us hear about them in the comments. Now get involved!